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The Division House Mystery

When writing division problems, we can use three different forms, a fraction, the division symbol (÷) or the division house. Why it has been called the division "house" has always been a mystery to me since most math symbols are named something that sounds important. I tried looking it up on-line, but never found a formal mathematical word. Well the mystery has been partially solved thanks to SamizdatMath on Teachers Pay Teachers who mentioned the word vinculum.
I decided to research "vinculum", and here is what I discovered. It is a Latin word that means to ‘bond’ or ‘tie’, and was first used by Michael Stifel in 1544 in Arithmetica integra. It is the horizontal line used to separate the numerator and denominator in a fraction. We also see it above the digital pattern that repeats in a repeating decimal or in geometry above two letters that represent a line segment.

Originally the line was placed under the items to be grouped. What today might be written 7(3x + 4) the early users of the vinculum would write 3x + 4. Today that line is placed over the items to be grouped. The line of a radical sign or the long division house is also called a vinculum.


The symbol is utilized to separate the dividend from the divisor, and is drawn as a right parenthesis with an attached vinculum (see illustration above) extending to the right. The vinculum shows that the digits of the dividend are to be kept together as they represent one whole number.

But when it is all said and done, the entire division "house" symbol seems to have no established name of its own. How mathematically sad! Consequently, it has simply be termed the "long division symbol," or sometimes the division "bracket" or division "house". So the next time you draw the symbol on the board, impress your students with the math word "vinculum"!

Can you find the vinculums in this cartoon?

1 comment:

RM Berkman said...

I love that someone has finally tackled this important question about what you call that symbol. I just call the way of writing it "algorithmic form," but while I thought it was called a vinculum, your sleuthing has exposed my error. Oddly enough, it is listed as the name of the symbol used to express a "radical," but not as in division. What gives?

Can't wait to read further...